Suneeta Motala, CMO, AfrAsia Bank Ltd

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact the world in unprecedented ways ushering businesses into a different normal. Marketing leaders are rethinking everything about their brands. Economies are still reeling and organisations are surviving the battle, but to win the war, we need to build brand resilience and adopt a different normal.

Changing customer behavior trends during the recovery phase is pushing us to embrace swift change. As brand custodians we need to focus on how to make a difference. The SCARS – as I frame it: Strategy, Creativity, Authenticity, Relevancy, and Simplicity – is a journey of critical brand self-reflection, with the ultimate goal of redesigning challenges into meaningful change.

Strategy — to recalibrate your business goals

As businesses and brands navigate through the impacts of COVID-19, pushing the ‘reset’ button becomes inevitable. Reviewing brand strategy becomes a valuable exercise, taking three requirements into consideration:

  • Review the scale, scope, and sustainability of the business
  • Dig deep into behavioral insights to understand the new mindset of the consumer
  • Determine how a revisited brand strategy will help shape strategic business decisions

The challenge for brands is to work towards how they build, design, communicate, and activate the experiences that consumers need and want in this different normal. Relative to the banking and finance sector, should we expect a paradigm shift in the saving culture or in the risk appetite of our customers?  The various industries are bound to rethink their business models, spot new opportunities, and be prepared for new challenges.

While a vaccine for COVID-19 is yet to be found, the safety of our stakeholders remains the most important aspect in everything we do to maintain human and business resilience – from supporting a new workplace environment, customer commitment to avant-garde technologies and a sustainable value proposition for the people and the planet.

Creativity — to unleash unconventional ideas

The COVID-19 pandemic is an invitation to tackle uncertainty with innovation and creativity. Brand guardians need to balance creativity, compassion, usefulness, and optimism. We need to continuously ask ourselves “How can we improve?” and adopt this culture as part of our brand promise in three simple lines of thought – how to make our customer’s life: easier, inspired, and personalised. Marketers will further be called to translate data into actionable insights, embrace design thinking, and cultivate an innovation-led team.

The winners will be brands that can meet disruptive challenges with creative solutions; those who will embark on an innovation journey and quickly test prototypes to create a bigger impact, faster.  To do so — tap into the existing pool of wealth at hand through data mining.  Analysing the information already in our possession confers the competitive edge of being proactive and fast in identifying avenues to redesign the wheel creatively instead of reinventing it from scratch. 

In Chicago, Dimo’s Pizza owner, Dimitri Syrkin-Nikolau, used his pizza oven to make face shields for frontline workers, explaining that slinging slices and slinging acrylic follow similar principles. We have also seen the watershed moment where tech giants Google and Apple came together to release the contact-tracing system to track exposure more easily.

It is undeniably the time to rethink, rebuild, and reskill with the aim of shaping intelligent practices for the greater good. This event accelerated current trends, setting new waves of digital transformation. Supply chains are innovating to merge into resilient ecosystems and are poised for their greatest growth yet. Banks have a fundamental role to cater for their diverse business segments and revisit their loyalty programme interaction from something that is occasional to something that is habitual. Mobilising a talent strategy that develops digital, cognitive, social, and emotional skills will be imperative for brands to manifest versatility and aspire to work more creatively.

Authenticity — to drive your brand purpose 

At the heart of our strategy in this rapidly-changing world lies our brand purpose. Purpose is what drives us as businesses and brands. It provides a clear, motivational meaning of our existence, where we are heading, and what brings leaders, customers, employees, and all other stakeholders sailing in the same direction. This changed landscape forces us to rethink our roots and our fundamentals as brands – what we have been seeking to fulfill in the lives of our customers since inception.

While authenticity goes a long way in sustaining legacy, the prime focus amidst these times is how, as purposeful brands, we can empower others and make a bigger impact.

The stepping stone should be to re-assess three major angles:

  • Your brand strengths
  • Your brand promise
  • The commercial edge of our business

The pandemic has shown the real side of businesses, without any corporate façade — and this is what we should consistently keep up in the current different normal to outmaneuver uncertainty:

From an authentic lens, the approach of New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, is commendable – a world leader in comfy clothes from her home casually chatting to millions of people. Her messages are emphatic, consistent, trustworthy, and connect emotionally. This is what people are looking for – having a genuine, and maybe even a not-so-tidy house as background may resonate better than shelves of heavy books and may ultimately thrive at viral authenticity.

Emotions and trust are paramount in the relationship between a brand and its audiences, particularly in times of uncertainty. Focusing on empathy through transparency, genuine care, authentic conversations, and credibility (consistent actions aligned with the brand promise) will outweigh any marketing strategy, empower audiences, and humanise the brand.

Relevancy — to generate brand perception

Brands are more invested than ever to stay relevant in their audience’s life. The human element is key – people will trust influencers who can help them navigate this extreme adversity through expertise, insights, and advice. Thought leadership becomes crucial to connect people, places, and possibilities. The caveat is to position your people as experts, with networked content that drives interest in enhanced decision-making, empathic communication, and resilience. This adds to the relevancy and legitimacy of the brand in the eyes of the audience. 

In turbulent times the focus will shift from selling a financial package to “how do we help?”  Customers want to be reassured that their investment portfolios will still perform.  They want advice on where to invest and how to secure their capital.  Shifting the focus from selling to helping anchors our customers’ trust in our capability to deliver on their needs and expectations.

Simplicity — the ultimate form of sophistication

Brand experience is the road to loyalty, and simplicity is its ultimate driver. With shifting consumer mindsets, brands are being forced to build “cultures of simplicity”. The five dimensions of simplicity as defined by the agency Siegel+Gale are:

  • Clarity
  • Ease of understanding
  • Transparency
  • Consistency
  • Utility

In an attempt to flatten the pandemic’s curve, Nike devised a distinctive campaign using hashtags #playinside and #playfortheworld, for athletes to inspire and innovate while training or playing at home – a hopeful message and a simple brand experience that connect emotionally.

Simplicity is a mindset and needs to be part of a brand’s value system from the top down. It needs to be embedded in everything we do to lighten the load on the constituent while interacting with the brand – from the language we speak to our audience, to how the customers experience the product or service. Customers ultimately reward brands that deliver simple experiences with genuineness and loyalty.

Final Thoughts

It is pivotal for brands to reset expectations and priorities, and re-imagine the ‘new’ society and evolving market dynamics. As we gear up to embrace a different normal, we need to focus on reshaping our brand’s SCARS in five fundamental ways:

  • Chart a revised brand strategy to emerge stronger
  • Unleash creativity
  • Build on authenticity to drive our purpose
  • Amplify relevance to become a top-of-mind brand
  • Make a lasting impact through simplicity.

As brands plan for future possibilities, surviving and thriving the post-pandemic effects will be key to instill trust and build a strong, mutually beneficial brand-consumer relationship for a purposeful and resilient future.